Heidi Beirich of the Southern Poverty Law Center said “white nationalists” who “desperately fear” the demographic changes of America are embracing GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump’s campaign.
“For us here at the Southern Poverty Law Center who track white supremacists on a daily basis, this campaign season has been a wonderful thing for those folks,” she said on a conference call last week with Angelo Carusone, executive vice president of Media Matters for America.
“For the first time they have someone running for the highest office who says things they believe and things they want to see and their view, essentially, is that the world of politics has come home to them. In other words, they were always right in their white nationalist views that whites should dominate the United States — that they should control the culture and the politics and so on and the history of the country is one of white civilization, and now Middle America has woken up and embraced these views,” she added.
Trump often mentions that he went to “the best” business school, the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School, and cites his intelligence.
“If you really love this country you have a very, very hard time convincing people that what you’re doing is right and that you’re really smart. And, like, a lot of us are really smart. I’m really smart – I went to the Wharton School of Finance,” he said at a campaign event.
Carusone told reporters on the call that those kinds of comments are an example of Trump trying to appeal to white supremacists.
Beirich argued the white supremacists have “for years” felt that neither majority party, Republicans nor Democrats, represented their views at all.
“They also see this in many ways as their last stand and last best hope for controlling the country,” she said.
She said Trump’s message on illegal immigration has particularly resonated with white nationalists.
“On June 16th of last summer he talked about Mexicans being rapists. Of course that view of criminality associated with people of color and immigrants is something that is inherent to white nationalist thinking. He was praised immediately by the White Genocide Project that believes white people are being wiped out in the United States by out-of-control black crime and immigrant crime,” Beirich said. “Within a few days he announced his immigration policies: building a wall and deporting 12 million undocumented immigrants.”
Trump has often mentioned the number of illegal immigrants who commit crimes in the U.S. but are not deported. In 2015, the Obama administration released 19,723 illegal immigrants with criminal records, including traffic violations, back into U.S. communities rather than deporting them, according to data from Immigrations and Customs Enforcement.
PJM asked Beirich if she thinks a politician who opposes illegal immigration is racist.
“I do not. There are serious issues around immigration that deserve debate. But not racist name-calling, and that’s what Trump did,” she replied.
Carusone said Trump arguing that the Mexican heritage of the judge hearing the Trump University lawsuit prevents him from being impartial resonated with white nationalists.
“There is definitely a general approach where he sort of touches on or signals and or mentions ideas and attacks that align very much with white supremacist or white nationalist ideology,” he said.
According to Carusone, a “subtle” example of Trump “signaling” to white nationalists is when he refers to his intelligence or health.
“On the multiple occasions he’s cited his own, sort of, I guess, genetic background as a mechanism for qualifications. He’s done this with respect to his brain. He’s argued that his biology is different and his brain is biologically better than other people because of his genes. He’s done the same thing with his diet,” he said.
“When pressed on his diet he’s argued that there’s just something about his genetics that are better than other people’s therefore he can eat all kinds of foods he shouldn’t ordinarily eat because his body is able to process it because it is superior. And while these could be Trump just being braggadocious – and it is very easy to dismiss it – but the underlying issue there is very similar to the attacks on Judge Curiel,” he added.
In July, Trump said his rival Hillary Clinton is “highly overrated in the brains department” and “really bad at reacting under pressure.”